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Staying safe while working outdoors in the summer heat

Hamilton, ON -- When you work outdoors in the summer, you are at greater risk of illness and injury that can come with excessive sun exposure, extreme heat and insect stings. Here are some precautions you can take to make your summer injury...


Hamilton, ON — When you work outdoors in the summer, you are at greater risk of illness and injury that can come with excessive sun exposure, extreme heat and insect stings. Here are some precautions you can take to make your summer injury free, compiled by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

Shun the sun: Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun can cause sunburn, premature skin aging, eye damage, and skin cancer, and can weaken your immune system. When the UV index (intensity of the sun’s UVB rays) is 3 or higher, take the following precautions:

Avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun, especially to the intense midday rays between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and be aware that you can get sunburn on a cloudy day.

Seek shaded areas for outdoor activities where possible. When this is not feasible (e.g. for work), set up shade structures or use umbrellas, buildings, trees, canopies, etc., to shield against the direct rays from the sun.

Cover and protect your skin by wearing a broad brimmed hat, lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants. Wear UV blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Apply waterproof sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30, and UVA and UVB protection, to all exposed parts of your body. Re-apply every two hours and after sweating or swimming.

Beat the heat: People who work outside or in hot environments, such as mines, agriculture fields, roofs, construction sites, and bakeries, are particularly at risk for, and need to know how to prevent, potentially serious heat-related illness. Heat stress is a buildup of body heat that without proper precautions can develop into heat exhaustion or heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition. As the internal body temperature increases, the heart rate rises and the body becomes overwhelmed.

Employers can take these steps to keep their workers safe:

-Evaluate the situation, and, if necessary, implement a heat stress control program.

-Manage work activities so that they match the employee’s physical condition and the temperature.

-Train workers on the serious health risks of heat illness, how to avoid it, how to recognize the symptoms, and what to do if it happens.

-Keep workers cool. Allow some flexibility in work arrangements during hot conditions. -If possible, schedule heavy tasks, and work that requires personal protective equipment (PPE), for cooler times such as early mornings or evenings.

-Keep the work area cool, or provide air-conditioned rest areas.

-Provide plenty of water for those who are working in the heat. Encourage them to drink even if they don’t feel thirsty and to take frequent rest breaks.

There are also steps workers can take to prevent heat illness:

-Take time to acclimatize; it can take up to two weeks to build up a tolerance for working in hot conditions. Adapt your work and pace to the temperature, and to how you feel.

-Take breaks to cool off in the shade, or in an air-conditioned building or vehicle to help prevent your body from overheating. If you don’t have a shady or cool place, reduce your physical efforts.

-Keep cool. Try to stay out of the sun as much as possible, and save physically demanding tasks for the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is less intense. Wear lightweight clothing and, if necessary, consider wearing a cooling vest to help keep your body temperature down.

-Stay hydrated. This is essential. As a general guideline, drink one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes.

-Avoid alcohol and drugs. If you are on medication, find out if it can cause your body to react to the sun and heat.

-Recognize the symptoms of heat stress in yourself and your co-workers. These symptoms include rash, cramping, fainting, excessive sweating, headache, and dizziness. You may not see or feel the effects so always use the buddy system to monitor one another.

Avoid the sting: Stinging insects can cause mild, temporary pain, and redness in some people, but they can severely endanger the lives of others. Insect stings can have life-threatening effects, depending on where the sting occurs and what allergies you have. Although rare, the most severe allergic reaction to a sting is anaphylaxis (also called anaphylactic shock). Of those people who die from a severe allergic reaction to a sting, half die within 30 minutes and three-quarters within 45 minutes. This reaction can occur the first time you are stung or with a subsequent sting.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction tend to appear within 30 minutes after a sting and include hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site; swollen eyes and eyelids; wheezing; tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing; hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue; dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure; shock; and unconsciousness or cardiac arrest.

Take these steps to avoid the perils of bees, wasps, and other buzzing bugs, especially if you work outdoors:

-Stay away from areas where insects are gathered, especially in and around garbage cans, dumpsters, fallen fruit, pet food, and other sources of food residue.

-Don’t provoke or swat at insects, or make sudden movements. Let them fly away, slowly walk away, or gently blow away the insect.

-Be alert when using power tools such as lawnmowers, weed eaters, and chainsaws that can stir up the insects.

-Tell your employers about your allergies to insect stings, especially if you work outdoors. Co-workers should be trained in emergency first aid, be aware of the signs of a severe reaction, and know how to use the bee sting kit (self-injectable epinephrine).

-Always carry your self-injectable epinephrine and a cell phone or mobile communications device with you in case you need emergency medical help.

-Reduce your chance of being stung by wearing light-coloured clothes such as khaki, beige or blue, and long sleeved shirts and long pants, and close-toed footwear. Avoid wearing scented, perfumed products, and make sure the insects can’t hide or get tangled in your hair, or in the folds of clothing and towels.

-If you must be near bees or wasps, wear a hat with netting to cover your head, neck and shoulders, and tape your pant legs to your boots and socks, and your sleeves to your gloves.

-Wear a medical alert bracelet if you are allergic to stings.

Summertime comes with some serious but preventable health risks. By taking some basic precautions, you can enjoy a safe, healthy summer.